The Perils of Groupthink

I’m a regular reader of Reddit. It’s a site with a bunch of communities, and you can pick the communities you want to be a part of. Those communities run from very specialized to very broad. There’s one on Video Games, and then smaller ones for individual video games, or types of video games. By joining one, you get to read a constant stream of updates from that community, collated with all the other communities you’ve joined.

There’s a lot to like about Reddit. It’s like an interactive Wiki, with specialists in areas there to offer suggestions and advice on just about any topic. It connects fans with each other, so they can talk about the things they love about a show or a book or a movie. And because of all those advantages, I keep going back to the site regularly.

But.

There’s a huge vein of groupthink that runs throughout Reddit, or at least throughout the pages I have frequented. People gravitate to a general consensus, and then anyone who disagrees with that consensus is publicly ridiculed by the mob. And so we see the general chorus of people who say Rings of Power “looks great, but has terrible characters.” Or that the Hobbit movies were blatant money grabs and a waste of time. Or that new Magic the Gathering foil cards are a complete waste of money. Or that Optoma projectors are bugged bricks that no one should buy.

On the one hand, this makes things pretty easy for someone looking just for a basic opinion on something. But the more I see it happening, the more uncomfortable I am with the whole thing. For example, I really liked Rings of Power (and the Hobbit movies). I have plenty of reasons why, but I feel no real desire to speak up about it on Reddit, because I know I’ll be overwhelmed by people telling me why I’m wrong.

It’s interesting to me that so many fantasy fans have become the very thing I didn’t like growing up. I remember getting made fun of for reading books that were a thousand pages long. Trekkies were looked at as nerds. One of the great things about fandom was being able to find acceptance for the things other people thought were odd. Now, there’s this same sort of ridicule aimed at people from within a fan base. That makes me sad. It’s not that I have anything against people having different opinions. I’m fine with people not liking Rings of Power. But that’s not what this is. This is a group of people deciding what The Right Answer is.

And these “right answers” persist over time. It’s gotten to the point that in many of these subreddits, I already know what the comments are going to be on a post the moment I see what the topic is about. There’s no real way to self-correct these answers. The loudest voice wins, and then all the quieter voices just give up and don’t say anything.

This sort of groupthink goes beyond simple subreddits. If a general topic comes up in almost any subreddit, I see the same thing happen. The moment anyone says anything about Latter-day Saints in any context, there will be a slew of people who show up to talk about how wrong the church is, how evil it is, how awful religion is in general, and on and on. It happens with authors. If anyone talks about Brandon Sanderson, there will be people who show up to talk about how awesome his books are. (Although interestingly, there’s a core contingent of people who will also show up to talk about how overrated he is. So perhaps if an opinion gets shared by enough people, it can exist even if it goes against the common decision.)

It’s even more disturbing when I hear people parroting back the same things I’ve read on Reddit, in person. The same arguments. The same justifications. The same criticisms.

There’s a disconnect there for me. That we can be in a world with so many different opinions, and yet the opinions feel like they’re getting more and more narrow. It happens in politics. It happens in sports. It happens in current events. I’ve never been the sort of person who’s just going to go along with something because everyone else has agreed on it. I like to question things and figure things out on my own, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t like this. And in the end, it’s not like I have to like everything. But the more groupthink dominates a conversation, the worse conclusions that conversation can end up with. On Reddit, you’d think so many voices would make things even more diverse. In the end, it only makes them more constrained.

Food for thought.

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